POETRY IS LIKE TAKING A DEEP BREATH

Monday, 22 October 2012

THEIR LONELY BETTERS




As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.


W.H. Auden
1907-1973



Wednesday, 10 October 2012

ENOUGH IS AS GOOD AS A FEAST

Father heard his children scream
from: Ruthless Rhymes, 1898






from Perverted Proverbs


What is Enough? An idle dream!
  One cannot have enough, I swear,
Of Ices or Meringues-and-Cream,
  Nougat or Chocolate Eclairs,
Of Oysters or of Caviar,
Of Prawns or Pate de Foie Grar!

Who would not willingly forsake
  Kindred and Home, without a fuss,
For Icing from a Birthday Cake,
  Or juicy fat Asparagus,
And journey over countless seas
For New Potatoes and Green Peas?

They say that a Contented Mind
  Is a Continual Feast; — but where
The mental frame, and how to find,
  Which can with Turtle Soup compare?
No mind, however full of Ease,
Could be Continual Toasted Cheese.

For dinner have a sole to eat,
  (Some Perrier Jouet, ’92,)
An Entree then (and, with the meat,
  A bottle of Lafitte will do),
A quail, a glass of port (just one),
Liqueurs and coffee, and you’ve done.

But should you want a hearty meal,
  And not this gourmet’s lightsome snack,
Fill up with terrapin and teal,
  Clam chowder, crabs, and canvasback;
With all varieties of sauce,
And diff’rent wines for ev’ry course.

Your tastes may be of simpler type; –
  A homely glass of “half-and-half,”
An onion and a dish of tripe,
  Or headpiece of the kindly calf.
(Cruel perhaps, but then, you know,
“‘Faut tout souffrir pour etre veau!”)

‘Tis a mistake to eat too much
  Of any dishes but the best;
And you, of course, should never touch
  A thing you know you can’t digest;
For instance, lobster; — if you do,
Well, — I’m amayonnaised at you!

Let this be your heraldic crest,
  A bottle (charge) of Champagne,
A chicken (gorged) with salad (dress’d),
  Below, this motto to explain –
“Enough is Very Good, may be;
Too much is Good Enough for Me!”



Jocelyn Henry Clive 'Harry' Graham ( 1874 - 1936)



Tuesday, 2 October 2012

from PARADISE ILLUSTRATED: A Sequence




'Come', spoke the Almighty to Adam,
'There's work to do, even in Eden.'

'I want to see what you call them,'
The Lord said. 'It's a good day for it.'
'And take your thumb out of your mouth.'
He added. (Adam was missing his mother.)

So they shuffled past, or they hopped,
Or they waddled. The beasts of the field
And the fowls of the air,
Pretending not to notice him.

'Speak up now,' said the Lord God briskly,
'Give each and every one the name thereof.'

'Fido,' said Adam, thinking hard,
As the animals went past him one by one.
'Bambi', 'Harpy', 'Pooh',
'Incitatus', 'Acidosis', 'Apparat',
'Krafft-Ebbing', 'Indo-China, 'Schnorkel',
'Buggins', 'Bollock' -

'Bullock will do', said the Lord God, 'I like it'.
The rest are rubbish. You must try again tomorrow.'

'Can't you let her name something?'
Begged Adam. 'She's always on at me
About the animals.'

'Herself a fairer flower,'
Murmured God. 'Hardly necessary.
I would say. But if it makes her happy . . . .'


o-o


'What a trek!' Eve muttered.
'The animals came to Adam . . .
Well, Mohammed must go the mountain.'

'What's that you said', the Almighty asked.
But she was on her way.


o-o


'Lady's finger,' said Eve.
'Lady's smock'.
'Lady's slipper'.
'Lady's tresses . . . .'

She paused.
'Adam's apple.'

'No,' said the Lord.
'Strike that out.'

'Old man's beard, then.'
She sped towards the mountain.

'Lily,
Rose,
Violet,
Daisy,
Poppy,
Amaryllis,
Eglantine,
Veronica,
Marigold,
Iris,
Marguerite,
Pansy,
Petunia,
Jasmine,
May.'

'I'm worn out,' she gasped.
'Belladonna -
And that's all for today.'


o-o


'She's better at names than you were,'
The Lord observed.
'They all sound womanish to me,'
Said Adam, nettled.




DJ.Enright
1920-2002


Sunday, 23 September 2012

DEWPOND AND BLACK DRAINPIPES



In order to distract me, my mother
sent me on an Archeology Week.
We lived in tents on the downs, 
and walked over to the site
every morning. It was an old dewpond.

There was a boy there called Charlie.
He was the first boy I had really met.
I was too shy to go to the pub,
but I hung around the camp every night
waiting for him to come back.

He took no notice of me at first,
but one night the two of us
were on Washing-Up together.
I was dressed in a black jersey
and black drainpipes, I remember.

You in mourning? he said.
He didn't know I was
one of the first beatniks.
He put a drying-up cloth
over my head and kissed me

through the linen Breeds Of Dogs.
I love you, Charlie I said.
Later, my mother blamed herself
for what had happened. The Romans
didn't even interest her,  she said.


Selima Hill
1945



Wednesday, 19 September 2012

SIREN SONG




This is the one song everyone
would like to learn; the song 
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here 
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mystical

with these two feathery maniacs.
I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer, This song

is a cry for help. Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
is is a boring song
but it works every time.



Margaret Atwood
1939



Friday, 14 September 2012

BUNTHORNE'S SONG (from PATIENCE)





If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant them everywhere.
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases of your complicated state of mind.
The meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.
And every one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
'If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!'

Be eloquent in praise of the very dull old days which have long since passed away,
And convince 'em, if you can, that the reign of good Queen Anne was Culture's palmiest day.
Of course you will pooh-pooh whatever's fresh and new, and declare it's crude and mean,
For Art stopped short in the cultivated court of the Empress Josephine.
And every one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
'If that's not good enough for him which is good enough for me,
Why, what a very cultivated kind of youth this kind of youth must be!'

Then a sentimental passion of a vegetable fashion must excite your languid spleen,
an attachment a la Plato for a bashful young potato, or a not-too-French French bean!
Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your mediaeval hand.
And every one will say
As you walk your flowery way,
'If he's content with a vegetable love which would certainly not suit me,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man this pure young man must be!'





W.S. Gilbert
1836-1911


PS: It's even better when sung to Sullivan's tune.

Monday, 10 September 2012

HOW TO TREAT THE HOUSE-PLANTS



All she ever thinks about are house-plants.
She talks to them and tends them every day.
And she says, 'Don't hurt their feelings. Give them
Love. In all your dealings with them,
Treat them in a tender, human way.'

'Certainly, my dear,' he says. 'OK.
Human, eh?'

But the house-plants do not seem to want to play.

They are stooping, they are drooping,
They are kneeling in their clay;
They are flaking, they are moulting,
Turning yellow, turning grey,
And they look . . . . . well, quite revolting
As they sigh and fade away.

So after she has left the house he gets them
And he sets them in a line against the wall.
And I cannot say he cossets them or pets them -
No, he doesn't sympathise with them at all.
Is he tender? Is he human? Not a bit.
No, to each of them in turn he says: 'You twit!'

You're a
Rotten little skiver,
Cost a fiver,
Earn your keep!

You're a
Dirty little drop-out!
You're a cop-out!
You're a creep!

You're a
Mangy little whinger!
You're a cringer!
Son, it's true -

I have justbin
to the dustbin
Where there's better men than you!

Get that stem back!

Pull your weight!

Stick your leaves out!

STAND UP STRAIGHT!

And, strange to say, the plants cooperate.
So when she comes back home and finds them glowing,
Green and healthy, everyone a king,
She says, 'It's tenderness that gets them growing!
How strange the change a little love can bring!

'Oh yes,' he says. 'Not half. Right. Love's the thing.'



Kit Wright
1944





Wednesday, 5 September 2012

THE MAD GARDENER'S SONG



He thought he saw an Elephant,
    That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
    A letter from his wife.
'At length I realise,' he said,
    'The bitterness of Life!'

He thought he saw a Buffalo
    Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
    His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
    'I'll send for the Police!'

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
    That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
    The Middle of Next Week.
'The one thing I regret,' he said,
    'Is that it cannot speak!'

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
    Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Hippopotamus.
'If this should stay to dine,' he said,
    'There won't be much for us!'

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
    That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Vegetable-Pill.
'Were I to swallow this,' he said,
    'I should be very ill!'

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
    That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Bear without a Head.
'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!
    It's waiting to be fed!'

He thought he saw an Albatross
    That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Penny-Postage Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said:
    'The nights are very damp!'

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
    That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
    'Is clear as day to me!'

He thought he saw a Argument
    That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
    A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
    'Extinguishes all hope!'


Lewis Carroll
1832-1898




In case anyone is wondering what has happened to the usually so serious tone of Friko's poetry blog since the long August break, I have decided to stay with humorous verse for a bit.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

THE JAMES BOND MOVIE




The popcorn is greasy, and I forgot to bring a Kleenex.
A pill that's a bomb inside the stomach of a man inside

The Embassy blows up. Eructations of flame, luxurious
cauliflowers giganticize into motion. The entire 29-ft.

screen is orange, is crackling flesh and brick bursting,
blackening, smithereened. I unwrap a Dentyne and, while

jouncing my teeth in rubber tongue-smarting clove, try
with the 2-inch wide paper to blot butter off my fingers.

A bubble-bath, room-sized, in which 14 girls, delectable,
and sexless, twist-topped Creamy Freezes (their blond,

red, brown, pinkish, lavender or silver wiglets all
screwed that high, and varnished), scrub-tickle a lone

male, whose chest has just the right amount and distribution
of curly hair. He's nervously pretending to defend

his modesty. His crotch, below the waterline, is also
below the frame - but unsubmerged all 28 slick foamy boobs.

Their make-up fails to let the girls look naked. Caterpillar
lashes, black and thick, lush lips glossed pink like

the gum I pop and chew, contact lenses on the eyes that are
mostly blue, they're nose-perfect replicas of each other.

I've got most of the grease off and onto this little square
of paper. I'm folding it now, making creases with my nails.




May Swenson
1913-1989


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

THINGS




There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.



Fleur Adcock
born 1934 in NZ, of English/N. Irish origin



Friday, 13 July 2012

SUMMER from THE LIFE OF LOVE

Gibran's painting of his sister Mariana



Let us go into the fields, my beloved, for the
Time of harvest approaches, and the sun's eyes
Are ripening the grain.
Let us tend the fruit of the earth, as the
Spirit nourishes the grains of joy from the
Seeds of love, sowed deep in our hearts.
Let us fill our bins with the products of
Nature, as life fills so abundantly the
Domain of our hearts with her endless bounty.
Let us make the flowers our bed, and the
Sky our blanket, and rest our heads together
Upon pillows of soft hay.
Let us relax after the day's toil, and listen
To the provoking murmur of the brook.


Khalil Gibran
18883-1931

Sunday, 8 July 2012

QUIETNESS




Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky,
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Escape.
Walk out like somebody suddenly born into colour.
Do it now.
You're covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side. Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you've died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.



Rumi
1207-1273

translated from the Persian by Coleman Barks with John Moyne




Thursday, 5 July 2012

KEEPING QUIET




Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those wo prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could no nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.



Pablo Neruda
1904-1973


translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid

Saturday, 30 June 2012

THE HUMAN SPECIES





The human species has given me
the right to be mortal
the duty to be civilised
a conscience
2 eyes that don't always function very well
a nose in the middle of my face
2 feet 2 hands
speech

the human species has given me
my father and mother
some brothers maybe who knows
a whole mess of cousins
and some great-grandfathers
the human species has given me
its 3 faculties
feeling intellect and will
each in moderation
32 teeth 10 fingers a liver
a heart and some other viscera
the human species has given me
what I'm supposed to be satisfied with



Raymond Queneau
1903-1976


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

HAPPINESS



My hair is happy
and my skin is happy.
My skin quivers with happiness.

I breathe happiness instead of air,
slowly and deeply,
as a man who avoided a mortal danger.

Tears roll down my face,
I do not know it.
I forget I still have a face.
My skin is singing,
I shiver.

I feel time's duration
as it felt in the hour of death.
As if my sense of time alone were grasping the world,
as if existence were time only.
Immersed in terrifying
magnificence
I feel every second of happiness, as it arrives,
fills up, bursts into flower
according to its own natural way,
unhurried as a fruit,
astounding as a deity.

Now
I begin to scream.
I am screaming. I leave my body.
I do not now whether I am human anymore,
how could anyone know that, screaming with happiness.
Yet one dies from such screaming,
thus I am dying from happiness.
On my face there are probably no more tears,
my skin probably does not sing by now.
I don't know whether I still have a skin,
from me to my skin
is too far to know.

Soon I will go.
I do not shiver any longer,
I do not breathe any longer.
I don't know whether I still have
something to breathe with.

I feel time's duration,
how perfectly I feel time's duration.

I sink
I sink into time.


Anna Swir (Swirszcynska)
1909-1984






Monday, 18 June 2012

MIDSUMMER




On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,  
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes  
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones  
leaping off  the high rocks — bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,  
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,  
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.  
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off  
but always there were a few left at the end — sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.  
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,  
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,  
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we’d meet  
and the nights we wouldn’t. Once or twice, at the end of summer,  
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.  
The game was over. We’d sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,  
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,  
because there was always work the next day.  
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,  
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.  
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.  
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.  
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.  
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.  
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.  
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.  
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,  
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.  
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:  
You will leave the village where you were born  
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though  
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.


Louise Glück
1943




Friday, 15 June 2012

SCREENED PORCH




The stars were foolish, they were not worth waiting for.
The moon was shrouded, fragmentary.
Twilight like silt covered the hills.
The great drama of human life was nowhere evident—
but for that, you don’t go to nature.

The terrible harrowing story of a human life,
the wild triumph of love: they don’t belong
to the summer night, panorama of hills and stars.

We sat on our terraces, our screened porches,
as though we expected to gather, even now,
fresh information or sympathy. The stars
glittered a bit above the landscape, the hills
suffused still with a faint retroactive light.
Darkness. Luminous earth. We stared out, starved for knowledge,
and we felt, in its place, a substitute:
indifference that appeared benign.

Solace of the natural world. Panorama
of the eternal. The stars
were foolish, but somehow soothing. The moon
presented itself as a curved line.
And we continued to project onto the glowing hills
qualities we needed: fortitude, the potential
for spiritual advancement.

Immunity to time, to change. Sensation
of perfect safety, the sense of being
protected from what we loved—

And our intense need was absorbed by the night
and returned as sustenance.


Louise Glück
1943



Tuesday, 12 June 2012

THE OLD NEIGHBOURS






The weather's turned, and the old neighbors creep out
from their crammed rooms to blink in the sun, as if
surprised to find they've lived through another winter.
Though steam heat's left them pale and shrunken
like old root vegetables,
Mr. and Mrs. Tozzi are already
hard at work on their front-yard mini-Sicily:
a Virgin Mary birdbath, a thicket of roses,
and the only outdoor aloes in Manhattan.
It's the old immigrant story,
the beautiful babies
grown up into foreigners. Nothing's
turned out the way they planned
as sweethearts in the sinks of Palermo. Still,
each waves a dirt-caked hand
in geriatric fellowship with Stanley,
the former tattoo king of the Merchant Marine,
turning the corner with his shaggy collie,
who's hardly three but trots
arthritically in sympathy. It's only
the young who ask if life's worth living,
not Mrs. Sansanowitz, who for the last hour
has been inching her way down the sidewalk,
lifting and placing
her new aluminum walker as carefully
as a spider testing its web. On days like these,
I stand for a long time
under the wild gnarled root of the ancient wisteria,
dry twigs that in a week
will manage a feeble shower of purple blossom,
and I believe it: this is all there is,
all history's brought us here to our only life
to find, if anywhere,
our hanging gardens and our street of gold:
cracked stoops, geraniums, fire escapes, these old
stragglers basking in their bit of sun.



Katha Pollitt
1949



Saturday, 9 June 2012

AMARYLLIS - after Rilke


You've seen a cat consume a hummingbird, 
scoop its beating body from the pyracantha bush 
and break its wings with tufted paws 
before marshaling it, whole, into its bone-tough throat; 
seen a boy, heart racing with cocaine, climb 
from a car window in a tumble on the ground, 
his search for pleasure ending in skinned palms; 
heard a woman's shouts as she is pushed into the police cruiser, 
large hand pressing her head into the door, 
red lights spinning their tornado in the street.

But of all that will fade; on the table is the amaryllis,
pushing its monstrous body in the air,
requiring no soil to do so, having wound
two seasons' rot into a white and papered bulb,
exacting nutrition from the winter light,
culling from complex chemistry the tints
and fragments that tissue and pause and build
again the pigment and filament.
The flower crescendos toward the light,
though better to say despite it,
gores through gorse and pebble
to form a throat, so breakable, open
with its tender pistils, damp with rosin,
simple in its simple sex, to burn and siphon
itself in air. Tongue of fire, tongue
of earth, the amaryllis is the rudiment
of form itself, forming its meretricious petals
to trumpet and exclaim.

How you admire it. It vibrates
in the draft, a complex wheel
bitten with cogs, swelling and sexual,
though nothing will touch it. You forced it
to spread itself, to cleave and grasp,
remorseless, open to your assignments—
this is availability, this is tenderness,
this red plane is given to the world.
Sometimes the heart breaks. Sometimes
it is not held hostage. The red world
where cells prepare for the unexpected
splays open at the window's ledge.
Be not human you inhuman thing.
No anxious, no foible, no hesitating hand.
Pry with fiber your course through sand,
point your whole body toward the unknown,
away from the dead.
Be water and light and land,
no contrivance, no gasp, no dream
where there is no head.



Mark Wunderlich
1968


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

PRIVILEGE OF BEING







Many are making love.  Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers.  They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does.  Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in the dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate.  They hate it.  They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising.  The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realised
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,
wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that his life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions.  He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with old, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels. 


Robert Hass
1941


Sunday, 27 May 2012

THE HUG




It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed;
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.



Thom Gunn
1929-2004

Thursday, 24 May 2012

HE SITS DOWN ON THE FLOOR OF A SCHOOL FOR THE RETARDED









I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded,
a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band
that was met at the door by a man in a child's body
who asked them, 'Are you the surprise they promised us?'

It's Ryan's Fancy, Dermot on guitar,
Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whstle.
In the eyes of this audience, they're everybody
who has ever appeared on TV. I've been telling lies
to a boy who cried because his favourite detective
hadn't come with us; I said he had sent his love
and, no, I didn't think he'd mind if I signed his name
to a scrap of paper; when the boy took it, he said,
'Nobody will ever get this away from me,'
in the voice, more hopeless than defiant,
of one accustomed to finding that his hiding places
have been discovered, used to having objects snatched
out of his hands. Weeks from now I'll send him
another autograph, this one genuine
in the sense of having been signed by somebody
on the same payroll as the star.
Then I'll feel less ashamed. Now everybody is singing,
'Old MacDonald had a farm,' and I don't know what to do

about the young woman (I call her a woman
because she's twenty-five at least, but think of her
as a little girl, she plays that part so well,
having known no other), about the young woman who
sits down beside me and, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world, rests her head on my shoulder.

It's nine o'clock in the morning, not an hour for music.
And, at the best of times, I'm uncomfortable
in situations where I'm ignorant
of the accepted etiquette; it's one thing
to jump a fence, quite another to blunder
into one in the dark. I look around me
for a teacher to whom to smile out my distress.
They're all busy elsewhere. 'Hold me,' she whispers, 'hold me.'

I put my arm round her. 'Hold me tighter.'
I do, and she snuggles closer. I half-expect
someone in authority to grab her
or me; I can imagined this being remembered
for ever as the time the sex-crazed writer
publicly fondled the poor retarded girl.
'Hold me,' she says again. What does it matter
what anybody thinks? I put my other arm around her,
rest my chin in her hair, thinking of children
real children, and of how they say it, 'Hold me,'
and of a patient in a geriatric ward
I once heard crying out to his mother, dead
for half a century, 'I'm frightened! Hold me!'
and of a boy-soldier screaming it on the beach
at Dieppe, of Nelson in Hardy's arms,
of Frieda gripping Lawrence's ankle
until he sailed off in his Ship of Death.

It's what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss).

She hugs me now, this retarded woman, and I hug her.
We are brother and sister, father and daughter,
mother and son, husband and wife.
We are lovers. We are two human beings
huddled together for a little while by the fire
in the Ice Age, two hundred thousand  years ago.


Alden Nowlan
1933-1983



Sunday, 20 May 2012

THE HUG




A woman is reading a poem on the street 
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too. 
with our arms around each other. The poem 
is being read and listened to out here 
in the open. Behind us 
no one is entering or leaving the houses. 

Suddenly a hug comes over me and I’m 
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light 
off to make itself comfortable, then 
subsiding. I finish but keep on holding 
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t 
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he 
would have. He looks homeless because of how 
he needs. “Can I have one of those?” he asks you, 
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised, 
surprised you don’t tell him how 
it is – that I’m yours, only 
yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to 
its face. Love – that’s what we’re talking about, love 
that nabs you with “for me 
only” and holds on. 

So I walk over to him and put my 
arms around him and try to 
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on 
so thick I can’t feel 
him past it. I’m starting the hug 
and thinking, “How big a hug is this supposed to be? 
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already 
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my 
shoulders, my hands not 
meeting behind his back, he is so big! 

I put my head into his chest and snuggle 
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes 
into him. He stands for it. This is his 
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s 
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly 
we stop having arms and I don’t know if 
my lover has walked away or what, or 
if the woman is still reading the poem, or the houses – 
what about them? – the houses. 

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing. 
But when you hug someone you want it 
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button 
on his coat will leave the imprint of 
a planet in my cheek 
when I walk away. When I try to find some place 
to go back to. 




Tess Galagher
1943


Thursday, 10 May 2012

SONG OF CHILDHOOD





When the child was a child 
It walked with its arms swinging, 
wanted the brook to be a river, 
the river to be a torrent, 
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child, 
it didn’t know that it was a child, 
everything was soulful, 
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child, 
it had no opinion about anything, 
had no habits, 
it often sat cross-legged, 
took off running, 
had a cowlick in its hair, 
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child, 
It was the time for these questions: 
Why am I me, and why not you? 
Why am I here, and why not there? 
When did time begin, and where does space end? 
Is life under the sun not just a dream? 
Is what I see and hear and smell 
not just an illusion of a world before the world? 
Given the facts of evil and people. 
does evil really exist? 
How can it be that I, who I am, 
didn’t exist before I came to be, 
and that, someday, I, who I am, 
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child, 
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding, 
and on steamed cauliflower, 
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child, 
it awoke once in a strange bed, 
and now does so again and again. 
Many people, then, seemed beautiful, 
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise, 
and now can at most guess, 
could not conceive of nothingness, 
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child, 
It played with enthusiasm, 
and, now, has just as much excitement as then, 
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child, 
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread, 
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child, 
Berries filled its hand as only berries do, 
and do even now, 
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw, 
and do even now, 
it had, on every mountaintop, 
the longing for a higher mountain yet, 
and in every city, 
the longing for an even greater city, 
and that is still so, 
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees 
with an elation it still has today, 
has a shyness in front of strangers, 
and has that even now. 
It awaited the first snow, 
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child, 
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree, 
And it quivers there still today.


Peter Handke
1942


From Wings of Desire, 1987
Dir. Wim Wenders

Monday, 7 May 2012

MAY



The blessed stretch and ease of it -
heart's ease. The hills blue. All the flowering weeds
bursting open. Balm in the air. The birdsong
bouncing back out of the sky. The cattle
lain down in the meadow, forgetting to feed.
The horses swishing their tails.
The yellow flare of furze on the near hill.
And the first cream splatters of blossom
high on the thorns where the day rests longest.

All hardship, hunger, treachery of winter
forgotten.
This unfounded conviction: forgiveness, hope.


Kerry Hardie
1951

Sunday, 29 April 2012

APRIL AND SILENCE




Spring lies desolate.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
without reflections.

The only thing that shines
is yellow flowers.

I am carried in my shadow
like a violin in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
glitters out of reach
like the silver in a pawnbroker's.



Tomas Transtroemer
1931

translated by Robin Fulton




Tomas Transtroemer is a Swedish poet, writer and translator who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

NOW IN THIS WANING OF LIGHT




Now, in this waning of light,
I rock with the motion of morning;
In the cradle of all that is,
I'm lulled into half-sleep
By the lapping of water,
Cries of the sandpiper.
Water's my will, and my way,
And the spirit runs, intermittently,
In and out of the small waves,
Runs with the intrepid shorebirds - 
How graceful the small before danger!

In the first of the moon,
All's a scattering.
A shining.




Theodore Roethke
1908-1963



Sunday, 22 April 2012

CATHEDRAL BUILDERS


Salisbury Cathedral From the East
J.M.W. Turner
1775-1851



They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
With winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
Inhabited sky with hammers, defied gravity,
Deified stone, took up God's house to meet Him,

And came down to their suppers and small beer;
Every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
Quarrelled and cuffed the children, lied,
Spat, sang, were happy or unhappy,

And every day took to the ladders again;
Impeded the rights of way of another summer's
Swallows; grew greyer, shakier, became less inclined
To fix a neighbour's roof of a fine evening,

Saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
Cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
Somehow escaped the plague, got rheumatism,
Decided it was time to give it up,

To leave the spire to others; and stood in the crowd
Well back from the vestments at the consecration,
Envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
Cocked up a squint eye and said, 'I bloody did that.'



John Ormond
Welsh poet and film-maker
1923-1990


Monday, 16 April 2012

from SHAPE OF TIME

Doris Kareva



You aren't better than anyone,
You aren't worse than anyone.
You have been given the world.
See what there is to see.

Protect what is around you,
hold who is there beside you.
All creatures in their own way
are funny -

and fragile.

xx

The question isn't
how to be in style
but
how to live in truth
in the face of all the winds?

With mindfulness, courage,
patience, sympathy -
how to remain brave
when the spirit fails?

xx

Idleness is often empowering,
recreating oneself - 
just as the moon gradually
grows full once again,
a battery surely and
steadily recharges,
so everything, everyone
must have time for the self -

for mirth and laziness
time to be human.



Doris Kareva
1958


translated from the Estonian by Tina Aleman


Friday, 13 April 2012

ARCHAIC TORSO OF APOLLO




We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in wich his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur;

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star; for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.



Rainer Maria Rilke
1875-1926


translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell



Bold italics in the last line are mine.


Archaïscher Torso Apollos
Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.
Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle
und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

A CHORUS


Elizabeth Jennings




Over the surging tides and the mountain kingdoms,
Over the pastoral valleys and the meadows,
Over the cities with their factory darkness,
Over the lands where peace is still a power,
Over all these and all this planet carries
A power broods, invisible monarch, a stranger
To some, but by many trusted. Man's a believer
Until corrupted. This huge trusted power
Is spirit. He moves in the muscle of the world,
In continual creation. He burns the tides, he shines
From the matchless skies. He is the day's surrender.
Recognize him in the eye of the angry tiger,
In the sign of a child stepping at last into sleep,
In whatever touches, graces and confesses,
In hopes fulfilled or forgotten, in promises

Kept, in the resignation of old men -
This spirit, this power, this holder together of space
Is about, is aware, is working in your breathing.
But most he is the need that shows in hunger
And in the tears shed in the lonely fastness.
And in sorrow after anger. 



Elizabeth Jennings
1926-2001






Thursday, 5 April 2012

STILL I RISE

Maya Angelou



You may write me down in history 
With your bitter, twisted lies, 
You may trod me in the very dirt 
But still, like dust, I'll rise. 

Does my sassiness upset you? 
Why are you beset with gloom? 
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells 
Pumping in my living room. 

Just like moons and like suns, 
With the certainty of tides, 
Just like hopes springing high, 
Still I'll rise. 

Did you want to see me broken? 
Bowed head and lowered eyes? 
Shoulders falling down like teardrops. 
Weakened by my soulful cries. 

Does my haughtiness offend you? 
Don't you take it awful hard 
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines 
Diggin' in my own back yard. 

You may shoot me with your words, 
You may cut me with your eyes, 
You may kill me with your hatefulness, 
But still, like air, I'll rise. 

Does my sexiness upset you? 
Does it come as a surprise 
That I dance like I've got diamonds 
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history's shame 
I rise 
Up from a past that's rooted in pain 
I rise 
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, 
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. 
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear 
I rise 
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear 
I rise 
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, 
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. 
I rise 
I rise 
I rise.




Maya Angelou
born on the 4th April 1928



Tuesday, 3 April 2012

MONEY

Royal Bank Building, Toronto, Canada
courtesy Wikimedia Commons




I was led into captivity by the bitch business
Not in love but in what seemed a physical necessity
And now i cannot even watch the spring
The itch for subsistence having become responsibility.

Money the she-devil comes to us under many veils
Tactful at first, calling herself beauty
Tear away this disguise, she proposes paternal solicitude
Assuming the dishonest face of duty.

Suddenly you are in bed with a screeching tear-sheet
This is money at last without her night-dress
Clutching you against her fallen udders and sharp bones
In an unscrupulous and deserved embrace.



C.H. Sisson
1914-2003